In the few seconds it takes to open a bottle of wine, have you ever wondered what went in to getting it there in the first place? It’s a little-ok a lot-more complicated than you might think.
Far more than a commercially manufactured product, great wine is the expression of a complex inter-working of natural and human factors-it is the summation of two years of dedicated effort from a team of grape-growers and winemakers.
For more than four centuries, Argentine winemakers have been honing their skills to produce grapes that excel in the country’s unique climate and terroir, then distilling them into wines that exquisitely express the local history, culture and nature. Each season presents new challenges to overcome; the wine that results is a tribute to the mastery of the winemaker’s expertise in responding to them. Here is a glimpse of a year in an estate-level Argentine Vineyard.
Winter marks the beginning of the new season’s crop, starting when the grapevines produce new buds-the beginning of a new year of growth.
The new buds “lignify” or turn to wood to survive the winter cold. Vineyard workers select the best cordons (or branches) to preserve for fruit development and prune the rest after lignification, helping the grapevines age. Pruning shapes the vine and creates a balanced structure so the leaf canopy shades the grapes from the sun, but is not so thick as to prevent airflow. It is also the time to boost depleted soil around the vines with compost and earthworm humus in preparation for new growth in the spring.
Buds begin breaking open and blossoming in the spring, but the work of pruning continues to ensure the balance is maintained between leaves and grapes.
In order for the right amount of sunlight to reach each leaf, the leaves are lifted vertically to form a canopy. This shields the growing cluster while providing maximum sunlight to the leaves. The canopy must allow for both airflow and sunlight to prevent rot and fungus from developing.
In arid regions of Argentina, such as Mendoza, irrigation is necessary for proper grape development. Two common methods are flood irrigation and drip irrigation.
Fertilizer is added to create nutrient-rich soil which optimizes grape quality. In order to achieve the most authentic terroir, it’s important to use only natural, earth-friendly materials. Winemakers committed to sustainability use natural pest and fungal deterrents. An example of this is mulch, a byproduct of hedge, tree, and plant clipping that both fertilizes the soil and deters several kinds of pests and weeds. Farmers and gardners create their own when they prune their lands, though it is possible to contact an arborist or tree surgeon to aquire it as well. Other sustainable nutrients are ones such as copper or sulfur compounds, rather than synthetic agrochemicals. This preserves the integrity of both the wine and terroir.
For nearly two months leading up to harvest, the principal winemaker for each winery walks the vineyards daily to determine the ripeness of the grapes. She collects samples every week from the vineyards to conduct an analysis of acidity, pH, sugars and taste (the most important indicator).
Because each grape variety ripens at a different pace, the principal winemaker must manage the ripening crop to determine when each variety should be harvested and enter the winery without overlapping other varietals.
Once the crop has been fully tested, the winemaker customizes the final pruning for each individual vine to maximize each grape’s flavor potential. This is another unique trait to estate-level wineries.
Fall is harvest time and the busiest, most exciting time in the vineyard. The principal winemaker decides exactly when each grape variety must be harvested as they ripen at different rates.
At the estate level the grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, preserving the integrity of each grape cluster.
Grapes are then carefully placed into small crates and quickly transported to the winery. This ensures that the grapes are at their best when they’re crushed, allowing for the richest flavors possible.
Once the vineyard’s growing season is complete, the grapes will be crushed, fermented and aged in barrels for months or years, depending on the wine. Out in the vineyard, it will soon be winter and the process will begin once again.